My Other November Feast: Sarah Addison Allen Books

I am writing this post the week before Thanksgiving, so I can’t tell you if books were my only binge this month.  I am planning on spending it with friends, a woman who has lived her dream of having her own farmhouse and renovated the kitchen mostly on her own, and hosting us will be a celebration of a dream achieved.  So much thankfulness.

And the fact that I binged at all after a miniscule break is possibly a sign of addiction.  I did like two weeks of only writing related stuff and then I read two novels in the course of a week without a single page of it being on audio. Not a second was listened to.

But of course they were Sarah Addison Allen.   One of my binge worthy loves.

Sarah came into my awareness via my hunt for magical realism and I have already posted about my previous novels I have read by her, but I saw her on a library shelf on my Wednesday walk break and I missed her.  It was like seeing that an ex is single over FB when you just got over something fierce yourself.  I wanted her Southern world back of family, relationships between women, and magic.  Always, there is magic.

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Garden Spells

This was her first novel, published in 2008 and I wished I found her back then when I was filling my newly found free time with books.  This one had more overt magic in it than the other two I had read, and I always like a dash more magic.

Two sisters united by an absentee mother come back together when one of them is in trouble, and they both work through their prejudices about one another to be the family they both need. Yes, excellent.

I was as usual sucked into her world and her cast of fun, wholesome characters, and the world of the South, which I don’t have the personality to live in myself.  I could tell, though, that it was her first novel because she did not keep most of her secrets until the end.   It was clear why the characters took awhile to connect and bond based on their own personal traumas all the way through.  It was less skilled, and I still loved it, and I am still going to read First Frost, the sequel that just came out, and I hate saying a single negative word about her because she writes magic to which I can only aspire.  And I am assuming this novel got her into publishing…which is hard enough in and of itself.   And it’s the highest rated on Goodreads of all her books, even though they all hover around a rating of 4.

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Lost Lake

This was actually the first one that started the recent binge, but I reviewed Garden Spells first because it was her debut novel.

A widower goes to find an estranged relative in her struggling vacation resort and finds herself again in this one.

Spoiler alert:  everyone gets found.  But if you don’t like that, don’t read this book and see how they all do so.  Sarah is about everyone finding a home in her novels with their best possible relationships.  I liked that there is a significant piece in this one about friendships between women in this one.  There is in the following book I review of hers as well, which did not play as much into Garden Spells which was more about family and love and with more magical realism.  Not as much magic in this one, but the setting of a resort around a lake has it’s own magic and it was enough for me.

This one has a novella prequel.  Maybe I will read it but I didn’t like Kate’s late husband because I am not supposed to like him and I don’t know if I want to hear more of him.

 

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The Peach Keeper

I read this over the summer but waited until I read other books to post.  I had it on audio and I can never keep an unread book of hers on my audio list for long.

This one is heavy on overcoming the family reputations to build friendships.  It is about women who are fighting to get advantages over each other and it letting them blind them to their relationships with each other being the real gift in their lives.  It has been happening since the beginning of time that a man comes along and rends relationships between women, and in this particular story, the characters end up regretting that they allowed that to happen.  And I liked that.  And I liked that women are finding and rescuing each other.  She also ups the effect of setting like this one, as in Lost Lake, with a town that is known for being foggy.

A glance over of the Goodreads reviews indicates that a lot of people liked her other works better and felt they were more magical.  Some had some attitude about it being chick lit, but if you want Alice Hoffman knock off chick lit this is where you need to be and you need to own that this is what you want.  Own your needs.  But this was not as well loved as others in her retinue.

Thinking about Christmas reads in the next few weeks before I get into the year end roundups…really…year end roundups?  And my one reading challenge instead of three this year.

Comments/likes/shares

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Halloween Reads Kickoff: Castles

It’s time for this season’s round of Halloween-y books, as promised.

The weather as of late has actually helped me accept the realities of fall. It was cold and dark a few weeks, which I felt was too soon, and then the hurricanes blew up all kinds of hot air, which while I have enjoyed one more round of wearing summer dresses, I want it to be cool and Fall like.  I have apples I picked with my son that it’s not cool enough to bake into my favorite apple pie recipe on Pinterest.   Soccer games and practices are downright hot to sit in.

I have still been marking this wonky weather season with books about my favorite topics of magic and a little scary and witches and dark.  Even if it doesn’t feel right out to bake a pie.

When I was little I thought that living in a castle was the ultimate high life and there was a point when at least the Western world would have been in agreement with me on this.  Top of the food chain.

And indeed the first book I talk about here is that kind of castle mentality where it’s mostly money and magic and enchantment and where you want to be if you can get there.  All very British.

But then I grew up and realized the realities of castles. Even when they were the luxury they were still cold and drafty, despite being spacious and being able to house many nobles at a time.  Any modern story of people living in castles before they were given up on are stories that do not renew my desire to live in a castle.  They get too expensive to maintain, built in a time with different society structure, and are altogether impractical, even if people want to live on in them like they are maintaining their stately families of old. There may be one more castle book that feeds some childlike wonder, but even the adults in that one can’t take care of the rambling thing.

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The Enchanted Castle, Edith Nesbit

These are miniature British adults looking for and finding adventure on a holiday meant for them to spend time together away from their respective schools.  No adults who are truly in charge or supervising are part of this adventure where they find a castle with a little girl who lives there as a relative of the help and get themselves into debacles with magic. This book is very much about a magic ring, almost more than it is about the actual castle.  And the castle is rambling and beautiful but it is not old and dark and gloomy.  The creepier parts come through when the magic goes all wrong and gets away from the control of the children and they are trying to figure out how to make things right again.  The castle is enchanted, certain other magical things happen there as well, but it is mostly light and harmless magic.  Only maybe a tiny shade of Halloween-y. But a good read for kids and a little fun.

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We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Shirley Jackson

I see this one all over the internets as something really great.  I had to read Wikipedia halfway through to orient myself to what was really supposed to be going on in this story.  I couldn’t decide if the narrator was supposed to be a child, or a little crazy.  or dead.  Or something.  It starts out a little creepy in the beginning with the agoraphobic sister and the very childlike narrator and the not immediately clear reasons why they are shunned by the town.   It gets creepier as the story is revealed and why there is the degree to being shut in, and then ending with how the women subsist in the end.  And I really wanted to punch the interloping cousin who tries to take over the estate. I was kind of hoping we would find out some of the family that was talking and participating in the story was actually a ghost.

I may have reached the conclusion that Shirley Jackson is underwhelming, and it’s not just because she is subtle.  I like Algernon Blackwood’s subtle horror quite a bit.  It stirs up fear inside me without having to be heavy handed.  I read The Lottery in high school and then The Haunting of Hill House last year for my last round of seasonal Halloween reads and maybe I liked them better.  I don’t know.  I just expected more from this one. I have now done all her most popular stuff, maybe I would like something lesser known even more.  I am open to others commenting on what I may have missed to help me see what others really like in this one.

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I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith

This one is lighter than Shirley Jackson, but it has its darker bits too.  I was anxious to read another Dodie Smith after 101 Dalmatians and how blatantly misogynistic that one was.  This one, thankfully, was much better on that count.  A family is struggling in genteel poverty in this coming of age story of a girl who is trying to help pull her family back together, her sister make a good marriage with the people who own the castle, and get her father back on track with writing.  It is stressful with how poor they are but it is still a charming and enjoyable book.

This book is not misogynistic but it reminds me how absolutely powerless women in genteel poverty were.  They are criticized for being ‘gold diggers’ but they don’t have a way of elevating themselves while keeping within their social class.  The only way up if their father is not taking care of them is to find a husband to do so.  She also finds her feelings about men changing and becoming more confusing.  I think the real strength of this novel is the likability of the narrator.  She is funny and smart, honest, and sweet.  She tries to make things okay for everyone but does not rush into her own happiness, but rather tries to be measured and planful at the end, not the heedless girl that she starts off with in the beginning.  Again, not as Halloween-y, but the castle is a major player of this story.

So, this was more of a gentle slide into the Halloween books season.  Next week is demons, so if you want something scarier, stay tuned!

Comments/likes/shares!!

5 over 500, Book 3: The Name of the Wind

So, I am awfully behind on my long reads this year.  I was done with my long reads last year by the springtime with The Time Seekers.  I have one beautiful week left of July and I have only made it to three long books.

Last year’s 5 over 500:

The Luminaries, Eleanor Catton

The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic, Emily Croy Barker

Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes

The Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco

The Time Seekers, DA Squires

 

This year’s 5 over 500 so far:

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, Susanna Clarke

A Winter’s Tale, Mark Helprin

The Name of the Wind, Patrick Rothfuss

A lot of reading what I have is shorter things, which should mean I am ahead on my book count as last year, but I don’t have a hope of reading more books this year, with 43 so far.  I would have to read 60 books between today and the end of the year to match that, over 162 days in which to do it.  I would have to get through about a third of a book a day to make it.  Not entirely out of range, especially if I stick to shorter things.

But my goals are different this year.  It’s more about reading what I have, and I am doing that, but I am getting pulled back to reading challenges.  Inevitable.  They are seriously like a black hole or a succubus or crack to me.  A black hole made of crack full of succubi if you will.

So number 3 was in the title and anyone reading for a review of The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss must be getting impatient and scroll happy.

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This is your quintessential fantasy book, in my opinion.  Granted I have only read The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring if I am going to model fantasy after Tolkien, but I feel this is similar.  A powerful wizard has to scrape his way up from devastation and nothing to realize his power in school, as well as trying to find out why his parents and actor troupe were murdered.  I am going to warn the reader straight out, though, that you plow through almost 700 pages and 25 listening hours to get like a fingernail of the story.  The last few pages involve a twist that leaves you hanging, and picks up interest. Typical of fantasy, it is not a standalone novel, and if you are okay with that, this could be for you.  It looks like this is a trilogy.  I have to be more hooked on a trilogy to do the other two, and I looked at the second one, The Wise Man’s Fear, is over a thousand pages.

I mostly liked the worldbuilding and the main character, who is smart but bold and impatient.  He has had enough time with loving parents and in childhood to have healthy attachments and empathy for others, but his time scraping to get by hardens him and he is much more bold and brash where this book leaves off than he was in the beginning. He lives by his wits on the fringe to keep stringing along tension.  He is not completely alone, he has friends, but he is certainly on the edges of society.  Further reviews suggest that he moves from being a wizard and a hero to even more powerful as the books go on, and who does not like a good quest to power?

Some parts felt slow, like when he was on the streets surviving, or when he takes an impromptu two day trip to find out more about the Chandrian and why they murder.  I know that the part with the dragon and the opiate resin he finds will be important elsewhere in the story, but where the book leaves off, I am wondering what that part was for.  His issues with a rich noble are not resolved, nor is his access to the Archives.

What I realized about fantasy while I was reading this and A Wizard of Earthsea is just how much philosophy this genre can incorporate when it wants to. Both of these dealt a lot with names and the meaning and power of knowing names.  Naming something usually means a degree of power over it. I wouldn’t be surprised if Rothfuss has read and developed some of his own work from LeGuin.  And I am planning on reading more LeGuin and seeing how much more philosophy/theology that she pulls in.

Even trolling some of the reviews I see, some people loved this and some people thought it was mediocre or even crap.  I posted on another blogger’s Facebook page that I was reading it and I got some loves, but Facebook does not have a dislike button yet so I only got one side of the reviews.  Why doesn’t Facebook have a dislike button, after all?  Is it trying to deny one of it’s predominant purposes of starting crap between people?

While I know reading outside my genre is good for me, I just don’t know if in my heart I am a fantasy reader.  I don’t want to do A Song of Ice and Fire, especially after having a boyfriend who wanted the next book to come out so badly he would have a fit when Martin did not report on his blog that he was writing, but watching football instead.  I don’t want to depend on someone to stop watching football to let me know how a thousand plot lines and random deaths will make sense in the end.  I understand why Martin was more interested in the Jets.  At some point I should buck up and read the other two Lord of the Rings, but honestly I read Fellowship in like 2001 and I only saw that one movie so I am not holding out hope.

Probably I can relate better to YA fantasy, sad as that is for me to admit.

But I did get through a Read Harder challenge category.  I am finding I care less for Popsugar this year.  And also Read Harder gives credit to the authors who I admire who selected these categories.  I like it.  I am cool if Roxane Gay and Celeste Ng pick out something for me to consider.

And briefly in other news, I listened to an old episode of Literary Disco to get through some of my back podcasts (because I will die beside a mountain of unrealized hobbies) and I think I need to listen to it more to sharpen my book critiquing skills.  Yeah.  Awesome yet funny book discussions galore.

Comments/shares/likes for please!!

 

 

Mermaids!

I doubt few things are more interesting or appealing than mythical creatures whose intention it is to destroy men.  Fewer things are more timeless than destruction, seduction, and curiosity.

What could be more timeless than the mermaid whose purpose it was to drive men mad in the pursuit of them? And then the countless attempts at recreating these creatures in legends and curiosity exhibits?

The few books in this post to sample the topic of mermaids treat them all differently.  And it does not include all the mermaid books I would like to read or all the circus/sideshow reads in my book hoarding situation.

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The Mermaid’s Sister, Carrie Ann Noble

This was a either a Kindle First or a discounted price treasure and was the winner of Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Award in 2014 for Young Adult fiction.

This one is as magical and mythical as a mermaid story gets. It is a fairy tale with the usual dose of nefarious characters and intentions, magic, and larger than life characters.  Two girls raised as sisters and one is becoming the mermaid she was meant to be, making the other sister, who is trying to get her to the ocean where she belongs out of love, wonders what this means for her.  Is she meant to turn into a stork, like her own legend of origin suggests?  What about the boy that is almost like a brother figure to her who is helping her try to save the sister and her feelings about him that just won’t be controlled?   All sorts of drama, darkness, and magic. Characters in this one actually have tattoos to immunize themselves from the curse of madness that seeing a mermaid can set upon one. And some regular teenage crises too just to keep it real.  I liked the audio with this one, and I am not at all surprised that it stood out enough to get an award for being the new kid on the block.

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The Book of Speculation, Erika Swyler

Also a debut novel, interestingly.  Strong family themes (similarly to The Mermaid’s Sister) in this tale of mystery and an inter-generational family curse that has to be untangled in time to save the latest generation from the same fate.  A librarian comes into possession of a book that helps him to unravel the reason why his mother and grandmother, both with mermaid abilities to swim and perform in a traveling show, seemed to drown themselves on the same day.  Again, the mermaid’s otherworldly, obsessive appeal is also talked about here as well as the mermaid being part of a show. Because what else would a woman with an uncanny swimming ability and in need of support do with herself back in times past?  Especially a woman to whom men felt an unexplainable draw? There is also a lot of reference to Tarot and reading Tarot cards to amp up the atmospheric mystery.  Sara Gruen endorses the novel on the cover, and people who like Sara Gruen (Water for Elephants and At the Water’s Edge) will probably like this one too. And the ending has just a bit of a twist on it.  So, worth the time.  I also have the prequel that I didn’t get to in time for this post. Shame on me.

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The Museum of Extraordinary Things, Alice Hoffman

I coveted this one for awhile before it came up on an Audible sale and I snagged it. Alice Hoffman is an author who I have hoarded up, and this one reminded me of why and that I need to get crackin through all her other stuff. It was one I was excited to procure, that I had not read yet which could be a Reading Challenge category.

While this one is more popular than some of hers (I am defining popular by the number of reviews I see on Amazon), it does not appear to be as much so as The Dovekeepers or The Marriage of Opposites.  This one just hinted right at the get go of being atmospheric, set in turn of the century NYC, one of my favorite novel settings for some reason, and it did not disappoint.  Have I mentioned before in my posts that NYC always has had this draw for me and for about ten minutes a year I think I could actually live there, when I currently live in a beautiful home in the country and driving to the nearby small cities can get overwhelming for me? A home where I regularly enjoy the benefits of living where I do? Yeah.  Then I am down there visiting a friend and I see children my son’s age boarding the subway and I have a panic attack imagining if that was me with my boy.

Alice Hoffman intersects personal histories in the context of the setting like only she can do.  A girl born with webbed fingers to a man who owns a sideshow museum and is groomed for performance as a mermaid in a tank, essentially as a prisoner, a Jewish boy who separates from his father after his father tries to commit suicide, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory disaster, and the intense political climate of the haves and have nots.  There usually aren’t even ten minutes of the year where I want to live in turn of the century NYC, but I love to read the tales of immigration, coming of age in a fast changing but still traditional world, people trying to hang onto their personal history as well as responding to the world around them in order to survive.

This book was everything I wanted it to be. Engrossing, intense, painfully real. I listened to it during driving in the rain which seemed to intensify it even more.

Mermaid books that I can’t miss?  None of these are romance novels, and I thought I saw some romance novels in the mermaid category, which would make sense, given then are supposed to drive men crazy.

In my own mermaid moment it is finally warm enough to swim in the lake with a wetsuit.  The fact I own a wetsuit and like to swim in lakes makes me ultimately unsuitable for my NYC dreams.  I don’t feel like a siren, either, just a woman wrapped in some weird fabric trying not to  dead sea float for long enough for the neighbors to think I might be dead out there.

Comments/suggestions/shares? I always love them.

Books that Make me a Better Mom

Happy Mother’s Day!

It’s honestly nice to have some holidays in the books that are not completely kid centered.  I know a lot of people out there feel that holidays are just made up by the people who stand to profit from them, and maybe so, but sometimes I think those same people either do not have young children, have forgotten their own fun at holidays or sadly did not have any fun at all when they were kids.

Don’t get me wrong, I love planning holidays for my son.  He got a sweet snorkel set for Easter and a bubble machine.  And a ball shooter.  I got him a butterfly kit for Christmas and its just about time to order the caterpillars.  And a beautiful sleeping bag that it has not been warm enough to camp in, which he is absolutely dying to do.

But holidays are an exhausting grind that even if I can have some wine and lounge on the couch, I feel guilty I am not being more fun for my son.  Not making the memory just a bit more awesome.

So Mother’s Day, man, it’s the thing.  My husband usually comes up with gift cards and free time for me and that’s perfect.  It could be free time, it does not actually have to be gift cards.

But then books.  What books make me a good parent?  They are not parenting help books.  I kind of spend my day working on parenting with families, albeit specialized parenting that you need support with when you have a child with mental illness.  This does not mean that I don’t read creative child or parent.co or scary mommy articles:  I do.  They are refreshers.  They give me an idea of where other moms are at.  They give me good ideas.  They remind me that meeting a child’s emotional needs now does not make them dependent on you forever (which I do know, and I talk with parents about short term v long term parenting goals) but I like articles that keep this fresh for me.

Books that make me a better parent remind me of the magic in the regular world for kids.  The magic, the humor, the way they see adults until they get become one.  The intense self consciousness, the concern about fitting in and am I going to be powerful like adults are someday. My son always wants me to slow down to show me dead bugs on the windowsill, or a worm (I think its always the same worm for some reason) and not cook dinner right away to ride bikes.  I often do not want to slow down or change gears or put down what I am doing, but most of the time I do, because if I don’t pay attention now, he will stop asking for it when he needs guidance on the harder stuff that I want to be included in.  I don’t always slow down perfectly.  And he isn’t an exhausting child.

I could wax poetic for days about how much I want my son to have a present mom who did everything right.  We all want that.  I feel like half my job some weeks is scrubbing guilt off a parents soul about “messing my kid up.”

So, the books. Okay.

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Ruth Chew

I may have talked about Ruth before, but as the first author love I really remember and wanted to get through everything the library had, she earns herself another mention.   She wrote about magic that I wish was real.  Adventures in flying and shrinking and witches and spells and potions.  Heck yeah.  Going to read at least one of these to my son. And remember what the world felt like when I thought maybe this could happen, or I would imagine what I would do if I could fly or shrink and explore a tree.  I don’t remember getting emotionally taken away by a single TV show the way she took me away.

And they have recently been re issuing her books, so I think I am not alone out there in my love for her.  I think a lot of my generation loves her.

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Swallows and Amazons, Arthur Ransome

I read this as a full grown adult for my first reading list tackle.  It is an English family living out the Second World War in the country while their father is involved in the war and they camp and spend the summer engrossed in their world of pretend.  I don’t want to spend the summer camping the entire time or playing like I was a pirate, but you got so into what they were doing it started to seem appealing.  It can be amazing to get immersed in pretend as a kid, and this reminded me of that.  Another share for my son.  This one might be a harder sell because it does come from a different culture at a different time in history, but deep down we were all the same kids at heart.

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Roald Dahl

Road Dahl reminds me that kids want to feel they influence their worlds.  I would fantasize as a kid about being more consequential in the eyes of adults than I was before I joined their ranks.  I thought I wanted to be more conspicuous, like on TV or something, and I did things at school to be noticed in positive ways.  But Dahl’s kids get to like talk to the queen and choose their parents and roll away from abusive situations in giant fruit.   And they outsmart adults. Yas.

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The Cricket in Times Square, George Selden

Being small and living in new spaces that adults did not traverse was somehow an exciting prospect.  I mean, right now I wouldn’t want to be a mouse living in a subway, but kudos to Selden for realizing that this would be a magical idea for a kid.  A cranny where one can watch the adults and hide treasures. And it takes place in NYC, the completely foreign place I got to visit as a kid, and makes use of this bustling backdrop to make the book fun.  Adult problems of how to survive living in the city were not real, but somehow there was something relatable about scrounging for food and watching the world as a small creature.

And reading for my own pleasure makes me a better mom. They say you should model reading for fun to your kids and I wonder if its the same when I am holding my kindle instead of a physical book.  I listen to books in the car with my son when he is watching a movie but I have started to consider putting on books he might like too to share the fun with him.  He does not choose to be read to on electronics or ask me to do it unless he is putting off his bed, so I have to keep working at his becoming a reader himself one day.  He isn’t the reader his mother is, but that’s okay.  The beauty of the children’s book market is that it is so competitive that a lot comes out designed to hook kids.  I will find something he really loves and ride that pony.  I am not above it.

What books remind you of the world as seen from the eyes of a kid?

 

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Read Down 2017: Middle Grade Novels Part II

I begged for Spring and now it is not enough.  It is warm, but not warm enough.

Blog posts are lagging because I am really in crunch time with half marathon training. Two long runs coming, today and next week, but nips into the distances during the week are starting the glorious taper.  I have been learning about my physical limits through all this and  I still do not know where they are. I am learning the importance of stretching and yoga to keep myself from getting hurt when I am pounding pavement and occasionally wondering how close I am to death when I push it too hard.

I survived academia and the daily grind of a supervisor and a healer, trying to keep the reactive emails to my boss to a minimum.  For his sake. But I don’t know how far I can run, or how fast, and I am finding out.  Hopefully my limit isn’t 12 miles because I have a 13 mile race on Mother’s Day weekend to conquer.

I read another round of middle grade novels this time, 8 and up, although one of them I listened to is absolutely not 8 and up.  It is all part of the read down and the exploration of the genre as an adult.  Kids books make me a better mom, but that is a topic for a later post.

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The Headless Cupid, Zilpha Keatley Snyder

This book looks like it is going to be magical and sets the tone for it:  a rambling house, a newly blended family, a grieving and precocious eleven year old protagonist.  But really, it is about the very real grief and transition of becoming a new family when old ones fall apart.  The other protagonist, Amanda, who comes to live with them, has clearly been taken care of with a permissive parenting style:  anything goes, not high on limits or supervision, and her distracted mother (as you can’t have a middle grade novel with too attentive and involvement) walks on eggshells to try and ease her transition.  This novel feels very real to me in its depiction of a grieving and transitioning family and its effect on older children who bear the brunt of it.  Yes, there is a mystery and a touch of magic and whimsy right up at the end and this is a series so I am wondering if the last bit sprinkled at the end is extended into further stories.  I would recommend this to a kid who needs to read about other kids overcoming similar challenges.

 

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The Night Gardener, Jonathan Auxier

This one is more straight up magic and whimsy.  Grieving kids, sure, but there is something much more lurking and sinister that is a very real danger.  Significantly more dark than The Headless Cupid.  More overt grief. Kids surviving on the edge of their wits.  And a scary tree that plays on human desperation to survive.  Everyone is hanging on by their fingernails, and the adults are too wrapped up in their own concerns to break free, so of course the snappy fourteen year old girl turned caregiver has to come in and wrench the family free from the tree’s clutches and give them back to themselves.  Interesting read, I wish I had read this when I was a member of the intended audience to have a feel for how this comes across to a child and their limited viewpoint of the world.  How a kid would process all that.  I very much want to read with my son when it is time for chapter books and I will be interested to see what he takes in of it.

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M is for Magic, Neil Gaiman

How this is classified as a children’s book, 8 and up no less, is a mystery to me.  The title would suggest a children’s book, and Neil has written for children, but this collection of his shorter works from different times in his career has too many adult themes that kids would not really understand.  There is one that talks about sex and infidelity, but even the others, like the story of Galahad trying to get the Holy Grail off a woman who got it in a junk shop by offering other legendary items like the Sorcerer’s Stone as a trade would not make sense to a child in the larger context.  His last story that later became The Graveyard Book, which I own but have not read, and that felt more middle grade-y to me than the others.  And I think I found it to be the most interesting and may have moved The Graveyard Book up on the queue.  That one I bought specifically to share with my son someday.  He’s not a huge reader at this point but he and I might find some mutual book loves if I work at it.  Neil is Neil, a true artist, full of whimsy, legends and magic, and I will probably always love him, but this is not for kids.

I like middle grade novels too while shuffling through something bigger. Something bigger and worth it, but that my brain sometimes can’t hang onto.  And I am seeing what I can share with my guy when he is just a little older from now.  I might be getting just a smidge tired of picture books.

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The First 2017 Snow Read

I would just like to say that I have been doing Snow Reads before it was a thing. In January of 2014, I committed to The Mysteries of Udolpho and last winter it was The Luminaries. I always circle a snow read for a time to decide if it will be my first long text after the New Year starts. I don’t know why one book becomes a snow read over another. It is my version of hygge, which I have seen floating about on social media, and The New Yorker did a piece on it.  Hygge, to me, is just mindfulness focused on the real comfort that winter allows.  Every day comfort, gratitude for what is and the small things, not big indulgences. Mindfulness is huge in Psychology right now:  happy people find things notice to be happy about, no matter what and how.  Things slow down enough for me in the winter to really immerse myself in a longer book, hopefully while crafting.  A snow read transitions me from the bleak weeks between Christmas and the dawn of spring. (48 days, I think)

Probably what propelled this Snow Read from possible to certain was the discovery that it has a miniseries on Netflix.  I was tempted to watch the miniseries, but then one of my smart friends said that she had not read it and the miniseries made no sense to her, so then I had to, right? If I wanted to watch the miniseries.  And I noticed the paper copy at one of my libraries was gone, so someone else had the same idea.  And, of course, if I have a long book I like it to be about magic:

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Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, Susanna Clarke

I first need to say that this is NOT Harry Potter for grownups.  Many reading blogs post on Harry Potter for Grownups.  There is no such thing. I saw a similar post of books to help you move on from Harry Potter, which I think is a more appropriate goal. Harry Potter was written for a hard to reach demographic: middle school boys.  I have to respect JK for trying to appeal to a tough market like this when she was just getting her wings as a writer. But you can’t get back the absolute wonder a child/young adult feels the first time that the world of Harry Potter is open to them (so what if my college friends were on the internet wanting to get sorted?) no matter how good your book is, because you are an adult now.  I have to say that the closest I got to recreating that wonder in another book was The Magicians, which is wonderful but also full of young adult angst of sex and drugs and wanting to recapture the innocence and fantasy of youth, which Harry does not have.

This book is about two English magicians in the early 1800s. Clarke places these fictional gentlemen in a real time and place.  She even has Strange befriend Lord Byron, which was interesting for me, having just read Romantic Outlaws, and he is the same man in Clarke’s novel as he is in the biography of Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley;  the same interesting rogue who doesn’t mind getting close to something absurd in a time where others actively eschewed it. This book is about performing nature magic and a parallel, and then intersecting plot with the world of the fae, and a mystery that is solved with an appreciable twist.

It was an excellent study into the world of upper class men in early 1800s Britain. There are female characters who are significant but congruent to the era, the ladies are more placeholders in the schemes of the men, not front and center.  This makes it a little different for me, as we all know I love a good book featuring the hidden worlds of women, but I still liked it. This book is for people who like to read about old school English gentlemen, even if they are not exactly likeable.  Norrell is a jealous old man whose jealousy really is the motivation for many of his actions in the book. He wants to own and control magic and does everything he can toward this end, but he was still sympathetic.

My favorite character was by far Stephen Black, a servant with dark skin, unusual to that place and time, who is endlessly respectable.

It’s a snow read.  It’s part of my comprehensive winter mindfulness project, which also involves taking my child outside to play and making my best effort at enjoying playing in the snow.  Lighting candles, making spinach artichoke dip, knitting my first pair of socks and finding out that I really need an algorithm more than I do a pattern because of my fat feet.

And, a brief aside, I have resisted posting a reading goal on Goodreads, and I am pleased with myself for resisting. I have not resisted buying more books. When something good goes on ebook sale, especially with an appreciable companion audio price, it becomes mine. But ReadDown 2017 is in full swing with reads I will be posting on later.

Have you watched this miniseries? Is it worth the time of someone who does not tend to make time for television?

Comments/shares/likes are always appreciated!